Can anyone help me identify this weird water pipe in my yard?
December 20, 2013 12:44 AM   Subscribe

I rent, and tonight I heard the sound of running water in my yard. I went outside to investigate and saw that water was spurting upwards out of this black pipe in the yard that is about 8" in diameter and sticks out of the ground about a foot (link to picture inside). The pipe has a cap on it that has a hole in it - it looks like an intentional hole that water is supposed to come out of. However, I've lived here for years and I've never seen or heard this happening. It rained today, and I live in SoCal where it hardly rains, but again, this seemed new. The water coming out was substantial and flooded a bit of my (very small) yard. After a while the water flow petered out. Since then, it's been going on and off at random intervals. I've tried to see if me running the water or flushing the toilet is connected to this, but I'm not sure that there is a correlation. The water coming out looked clear, but smelled a little funky and may have emitted a little steam (I didn't want to touch it to check the temp). The pipe is located less than a foot away from the side of the house and is next to my water heater that is located outdoors in some sort of locker thing. I've left a message for the landlord but wanted to see if anyone has any insight as to what this thing may be, and if this is unusual. Thanks!

Link to pic here.
posted by emily37 to Home & Garden (13 answers total)
Your mention of rain is a good clue. If there is a basement in the building, there may be a sump pump to pump water out of the house. When you pump it out, it has to go somewhere, like the yard.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 1:29 AM on December 20, 2013

I was going to guess sump pump too.
posted by goggie at 2:26 AM on December 20, 2013

A basement and sump-pump in SoCal would be as rare as hen's teeth, but I suppose that might be possible. That pipe is a clean-out for something though.

If the landlord doesn't get back with you, try your local water department. They may have some insight.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:05 AM on December 20, 2013

The pipe could be a turnoff for your city water? Or, perhaps a relief valve for your water heater?
posted by HuronBob at 5:14 AM on December 20, 2013

This kind of pipe fitting in the picture is called a clean-out. It's there in case water backs up in the pipe, a plumber can open it and find the clog.

But that seems remarkably close to the house for a sump pump drain.

Do you gutters drain freely, that is away from the foundation (as seen here,) or do they dump water into pipes that might look similar to the clean-out?

If they dump water into a drain system, it could be clogged, which would lead to the rainwater backing up through that hole. A plumber can open the clean-out and run a camera in to find any clog.

Whether it's sump pump water or gutter water, I'll bet your landlord drilled that hole. Probably in response to a previous back-up, in order to avoid a plumbing call.
posted by Marky at 5:18 AM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Is that in the yard? From the pic, it looks more like it's inside.

Anyway...It looks like a cleanout, as Marky surmises. They are normally supposed to be part of your sewage line. That it had water flowing out of it after a rain makes me think that, in your case, the sewer line from the house is tied into the city storm drain. In my neck of the woods, that's against code today, but it was common practice umpteen decades ago. It's not a good situation, as a seriously heavy rain could result in storm water backing up into the house.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:37 AM on December 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

two things:

One: agreed it looks like a clean out pipe, which means the water coming out may contain sewage.

Two: I'd be like white on rice with my landlord if there was a pipe anywhere near the house spewing water. Doberman on hamburger here.
posted by k5.user at 6:57 AM on December 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'd be like white on rice with my landlord if there was a pipe anywhere near the house spewing water.

And not just because it's inconvenient or scary for you - if I owned a building that had water bursting out like that, I'd really want to know about it because of the potential other problems it could cause.
posted by LionIndex at 8:13 AM on December 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

Just as a data point from up in also-not-too-rainy SF, we had some water back up in our backyard last winter through a drain (meant for rain runoff to go *into*) when some tree roots started to block up the pipe. If you have trees on/near your property, they might be blockage culprits.
posted by saramour at 8:59 AM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

That is a cleanout. Generally black pipe is sewage (white pipe is stormwater) but sometimes people just install whatever they have handy and screw the plumbing code, especially in rentals. It sounds to me like you have rainwater getting into your sewage pipes and that is causing a back up. In LA/socal area most of the towns have a separate stormwater/sewage lines and always have (in older part of the us, especially the east coast, the systems are often combined and it is a huge pollution problem.

Generally how this develops is someone builds a house and it starts flooding in heavy rains, usually do to bad subdivision/drainage design. This is really common as the lots get smaller (like you said you have). So to get rid of the water a lot of cheap property owners will just hook up the stormwater drains to whatever pipe they find and that is usually sewer (if there was a stormwater drain there wouldn't be flooding in the first place).

The only way to fix this is to get a plumber with a camera to send the camera down the hole and see what is wrong. AT the same time they should find the nearest downstream sewer manhole and put dye in the gutters around your house (or however stormwater is supposed to drain) and if the dye shows up in the sewer the drainage is hooked up wrong (Like i suspect it is). You then report the chintzy landlord to your local building and public works department and they will fix it. Or get fined a LOT.
posted by bartonlong at 10:50 AM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Storm water backflowing out of the clean-out on your sewer line.

Often sanitary sewer and storm sewers are combined. Events like this is why jurisdictions move away from combined systems when they can.
posted by humboldt32 at 11:11 AM on December 20, 2013

As others have pointed out, call the landlord, ASAP. Let them know the big black pipe out back is spurting water out of it. Ask them what that pipe does.

Water not managed properly can cause considerable damage to the foundation of the house. If the landlord doesn't know about the problem you could save them a lot of money long-term by catching this problem now.
posted by wkearney99 at 7:20 PM on December 20, 2013

Hey all -

Thanks for the responses! It turns out to be a sewer clean out as many of you mentioned (in SoCal we don't really have basements or sump pumps, as another one of you mentioned.) Our sewer line was actually backing up and it had nothing to do with the rain. Also, that hole in the top is a normal part of the pipe so that water (but not "solid" sewage) can release if necessary - it is not something the landlord drilled.

Thank you again!
posted by emily37 at 9:50 AM on December 21, 2013

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